Kind, Gentle and Generous

Give Him the Moon

Earlier this year I set a goal to stay out of the hospital or a hospital program this spring.  Three out of the last five years, I’ve ended up there.  It’s a good thing, really, to know when to make that call.  Lots of folks with mental illness aren’t able to do that for themselves, so I feel lucky and proud of the work I do to hang onto a little insight during the worst of times.

However, the program I’ve used in the past was eliminated, like many of the behavioral health programs across the state, because psychiatrists fled Iowa like rats on a sinking ship (some problem with Medicare reimbursement).  If I needed serious help now, I’d have to drive across the state and admit myself into one of the few psych wards left.  I’d rather not, really.

I needed to change things up—not just my perspective, but what I do to manage this transition from winter to summer.  I found some new resources this year to help—Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation (IPR) and Integrated Health Services (IHS).  Both are new state programs trying to fill the gaps left by the psych docs.  Also, with my mom’s passing last summer, I now live frugally instead of crushed by poverty.  It’s a huge difference.

So, with this new net under me, I started to address the critical and disapproving voice in my head.  I started to wonder if my drive to do more and be more was actually another facet of that mean voice.  I watched how I withheld comfort, left no room for rest or rejuvenation, and squeaked by on the least.

I wondered how it might feel to do the opposite—to be kind and gentle in my self-appraisal, to be generous with my time and money.  I wondered how that voice might sound.  I wondered, for instance, what my grandma might say to me when rapid cycling ruined all my plans for the day.  Or what my friend, Lily, might say about me going to Ireland next year.

Whenever I started to hate on myself, or rail against the unfairness of living with bipolar disorder, or scold myself for going to Des Moines twice in one week, I tried to stop and conjure the people who love me.  Their kind and gentle voices filled my mind.  Their immediate generosity helped me breathe.

Over the course of the spring, I’ve tried to make those voices strong in my mind.  This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done.  I’m steeped in self-violence.  Recognizing the lie in that voice when it slithers into my thoughts takes time.  Then, countering it with petal-soft, open-armed sweetness is like speaking a foreign language.  But, I’ve learned a few words.  And my vocabulary is growing.

Being kind, gentle and generous to myself doesn’t alter the course of my bipolarity.  Rapid cycling fogs my brain and leaves me exhausted.  Emotions flip and tumble like Olympians.  Chores overwhelm me.  But, today, I have hope that I can navigate the hard road through Spring.  In my mind, I’m holding a warm, gentle hand.  It fits perfectly in mine.  Because it is mine.

Thought for the Day

homemade cards, collage art


God Bless Dave Matthews

I just had to share this video.  It gave me the boost I needed to get going today.

Amazed in Blogland

Yesterday was a first for me.  Someone reblogged my post to their own blog.  I didn’t know whether to be flattered or run to the teacher and tattle.  So, I zipped over to this rapscallion’s site to see what was going on.

Well, for Heaven’s Sake.  Ian Reese is from Mumbles, South Wales.  I could not have made that up on my best writing day.  His motto is Nid bod ond byw, which is Welsh for Not existing, but living.

The more I explored his blog(s), the more perplexed I became.  This young man writes mostly thoughtful political commentary about what’s going on in Britain, or posts wonderful photography.  How the heck did my little post on searching for the ultimate coffee shop fit his gestalt?  And how in the world did he find me in the first place?

Sometimes this blogging business feels like the ultimate in serendipity.  Social Media meets the Laws of Attraction and Karma.  You get what you put out into the world.  What goes around, comes around.  Toss a bit of your soul into the vasty, cyber seas and it comes back in a bottle made of diamonds.

The people I’ve met by keeping this public journal are deep and wide, soulful, striving, loving human beings who shock my socks off every single day.  Even old friends and members of my family reveal parts of themselves here that are surprising and tender.  What a miracle to connect with such beauty!  What a miracle to be found, stumbled over in the electronic dark, by minds and hearts so open and giving.

Ian, if you’re out there, buddy, I thank you for this amazing gift.  And I promise to keep on living, not just existing.

30 Days of Gratitude: Day 12

I admit it.  I’m not an easy friend.  I don’t chitchat or gossip.  I don’t like shopping or care about make-up and manicures.  I dig into your personal life and snap open your psyche.  And if you don’t behave or think the way I think you should, I’ll set you straight.  Oh, and then there’s that bipolar thing that tends to annoy and exhaust potential friends before we even get started.  No, I’m not easy.

So, it’s a miracle that I can claim two (count ’em, two!) new friends since moving back to Marshalltown five years ago.  I met Matt at the Tremont, the cafe where I first reclaimed my ability to write.  He would come in for iced tea before going to his salon across the street.  Loud, outrageous, hilarious, he’d slide into my booth and we would spin off into endless directions, talking in multiple foreign accents and laughing until we wet ourselves.  Also suffering from clinical depression, Matt and I understood each other in ways others couldn’t.  We knew when to push and challenge and when to empathize and be gentle.  I don’t see Matt as often as I did since converting to Haven as my coffee-shop-of-choice, but when we do get together, it’s like we were never apart.  That’s the sign of a true friend.

Funny how those coffee shops keep providing me with a social life.  Joyce manages the “front” at Haven.   With her Betty Rubble laugh, she sees Haven as her Shop of Joy.  Her compassion and caring keep people coming back.  She and I connected from the very first latte. She’s someone I can go deep with, talking about our feelings, our fears, our dreams.  We share a love of crafts and thrift shops.  We laugh a lot and talk in a street lingo only white, middle class, middle-aged women would ever think hip (we down w’dat, sista).  As a Christian, Joyce carries her faith gently, never shoving it onto others, just letting it guide her actions and her choices.  I respect her deeply for this since our town seems choked with rabid conservative blowhards.  Someone who actually practices their faith by action instead of word warms my cockles.

I’m blessed to have found these treasures—complex, fascinating, loving individuals who consider me their friend.  Even if I’m not easy.

A Pool of Light

In order for my cats to live with me in my government-subsidized apartment, I’m required to keep current with their rabies and distemper shots.  I couldn’t afford the annual vet bill before I moved last May, and didn’t worry about taking them since my boys never go outside.  But, being a rule-follower in general, I scraped up the money last year and took them to my friends’ vet.  Condescending, unprofessional and snarky are but a few of the choice words I would use to describe that particular clinic.  This year, I was determined to do better by my boys.

Top of my wish list for a new clinic was that it accept Care Credit.  This service is a revolving credit card.  It’s used to pay for health care needs not covered by insurance—specifically dental, veterinary, cosmetic, vision, and hearing.  The fees are charged to the Care Credit account with the option of paying off the balance without any interest accrued for twelve to eighteen months.  I used Care Credit to pay for teeth implants a couple of years ago, and always use it for my biannual dentist checkups.  It’s wonderful to be able to pay an affordable amount each month instead of being forced to pay the whole bill at once or foregoing dental care altogether because of the cost.  And there’s lots of time to get the bill paid before they start adding interest.  I found a vet in town who accepted Care Credit, so I crossed my fingers and took the boys to see her.

What a delight to find office staff who welcomed me and immediately called the boys by name.  There were cats and dogs roaming the corridors and lounging on the desks—official greeters, I was told.  Dr. Summers and her staff handled my cats gently and skillfully.  These were folks who truly loved animals and let it show, remarking on Emmett’s pretty coat and Henry’s gentle nature.

When Dr. Summers palpated Henry’s bladder, he hissed, which told both of us his “bladder infection” from last month was still troubling him.  But, this time, I felt completely at ease leaving him with these kind people so they could get a urine sample.  It took two days, but he finally gave it up.  And, of course, he never had a bladder infection at all (a misdiagnosis from Snarky Clinic).  Dr. Summers reported that Henry had bladder crystals, a condition that could become life-threatening if not treated.  Luckily, all he needs is a special cat food that will dissolve the crystals.  A little expensive, but well worth the health of my good buddy.

When I came to the clinic to pick him up, I’d been having a rough day with depression.  I got a little weepy when I told the staff how grateful I was for their kindness.  I shared that I was bipolar and living on Social Security Disability, so being able to afford health care for my cats was only possible with Care Credit.  I knew the boys and I had found the right clinic when all the office girls came around the counter and hugged me.  “Goodness,” I told them, “you all just made a hard day so much easier.”

The clinic was an unexpected gift, a pool of light in the middle of a spell of dark days.  I doubt anyone there will ever understand what a lifeline they threw me simply by caring about my cats and treating me with respect.  But, the boys and I know.  And we’re purring.

A Little Vacation

I think I hit bottom yesterday.  I think.  I feel a little more lively this morning.  But, I felt that way yesterday morning, and then plummeted while doing “Crazy Legs” in the pool.  Without the definite mood SNAP of rapid cycling, it’s a little like groping around in the dark to figure out how I feel.  Here’s a soft thing—is it a bed? a cat?  refried beans I forgot to put in the fridge?  Here’s an uncomfortable feeling—is it depression?  more?  less?  My guess is that the mood is shifting, which makes it slippery and undefinable.  So, I’m taking a leap of faith and assuming I’m on my way back.

Yesterday, I was scared enough by my deepening despair to make sure I wasn’t alone.  I called my sister and spent the day at her house.  She greeted me at the door with a kiss and the smell of cupcakes wafting through the kitchen.  My sister has a small house, an earth-sheltered Hobbit Hole full of warmth and calm beauty.  When I got there, her iPod was playing Josh Groben, The Carpenters, James Taylor—mellow and calming to match the quiet mood of the house.  We talked a little, I cried a little, but mostly we simply shared space.  My sister was there.  That’s all I needed.  Later in the afternoon, I came back home.  I was still depressed, but not scared.

Sometimes, when the depression gets too big, it helps to take a little vacation.  Depression has a way of leaking into the furniture, the pile of dirty clothes, the food in the refrigerator, the people seen every day.  It helps to go someplace that hasn’t been contaminated by days and nights of weeping and barbed wire thinking.  Going to my sister’s yesterday was like going to a spa.  A spa with cupcakes.

Thanks, Sissy.

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